Monday, December 04, 2006

a long-expected party

Last week I began something that I’ve been waiting for years to do.

I began reading “The Lord of the Rings” to our 9 year old son.

Now I know this is one of those perennial parental debates: when is your child ready for this… or for that...? As parents we’ve been, on the whole, very careful (some would say overly so) about some of our choices… We didn’t have a TV that worked until he was 4 or so, and then only watched the occasional video. It was rather shocking to us when one of his little friends was watching the newly released “Lord of the Rings” movies… while our son would weep at the admittedly vivid scene of Franklin the Turtle and his friend Bear arguing over the blanket (and tearing it, dramatically, in the process).

We’ve tried to be very careful in terms of watching on-screen depictions of violence. We’ve followed, more or less, a “vaccination” philosophy of TV and “screen time” generally - not prohibiting it and making it a “forbidden fruit” that becomes overly tempting and exciting, but still setting pretty strict limits, and trying to make sure we do other fun things as a family and with friends so that “screen time” is not the only (or most appealing) option.

All the same, how sad that we have felt the need to implement a strategy of intentional and incremental de-sensitizing to a certain degree of on-screen violence for our son to be able to relate and function in a “normal” way with his peers… to not be traumatized when he goes to a friend’s birthday party and somebody puts on a video… While at the same time we struggle with how to nurture an “alternative imagination” in the face of the endlessly rehearsed “myth of redemptive violence” (that “evil” is necessarily and effectively and heroically combated and defeated by violent means)…

One of the joys of parenthood this past while has been delighting together in a pile of books that I remember reading and loving when I was close to our son’s age. A while back it was the Narnia series, and the Hobbit. More recently, Danny the Champion of the World, and My Side of the Mountain. Wonderful, wonderful stuff, and wonderful to hear “How many favourites did you have, dad?” and “What's the next one going to be?”

But I’ve been holding off on reading The Lord of the Rings. Maybe in part it’s because I only discovered them when I was older (early teens), and don’t want to “spoil” the experience by introducing it too soon. They are long, and “darker” and more scary than anything we’ve read together so far… I remember a favourite university prof, who taught us Shakespeare, saying that he’d never finished reading The Lord of the The Rings because it terrified him… But I hear from other parents who have read them to children younger than ours…

So is our son “ready?” How to decide? Is reading the Lord of the Rings together at this point merely reinforcing the “myth of redemptive violence”…? … or could it also be helping to nurture an “alternative imagination”…? (eg: the more I read of the “call” and “quest” of the hobbit-folk the more I hear echoes of texts like 1 Cor 1:26-31)…

Or is it really about daddy not being able to wait any longer…?

Well, last week our son was home sick from school for two days, and I decided to take the plunge. I don’t think being sick has ever been so much fun for either of us. (We haven’t gotten to the scarier parts yet.)

And after reading about Frodo carrying on the tradition of celebrating Bilbo’s birthday, even years after Bilbo went away, our son said “I don’t think that’s so weird. It’s kind of like Christmas. We celebrate Jesus’ birthday every year, even though he’s not here anymore. Well, he is, but not… you know, technically… but we celebrate his birthday anyway…”

And now, at the beginning of Advent, our son is the one insisting that we set up the tree, sing Christmas songs, have our special “family worship” times. He has even planned out a daily “service,” has assigned us each our parts, and has been leading us each day after supper.

“And a little child shall lead them…”

“A Long-expected Party” indeed.



At 12:18 PM, Anonymous Henry said...

Congratulations, Bryan. Shared enthusiasm can make a great party.

At 7:57 PM, Anonymous Jonathan Reuel said...

I wasn't allowed to read the Lord of the Rings until I was 12. The Hobbit, much earlier. I read them alone, however, not with my dad. I think that could make the difference, as it does with most difficult and scary things in life.

At 10:49 PM, Blogger Charleen Jongejan Harder said...

I read the Hobbit enthusiastically on my own at 9, and tried to read the Lord of the Rings on my own at that point, but wasn't able to really follow it. I picked it up again on my own around 12... (like Jonathan)

But they say that the read-aloud age is usually several years younger than the read-to-yourself age, and Matthew has certainly demonstrated that he's able to process it.

I'm delighted to hear about Matthew's leadership in your Advent Family worship time. I'm taking a seminar on Family Spirituality this semester. Can I share your story with my class members? It's an encouragement.

At 5:13 PM, Anonymous Tim Schmucker said...

Thanks for your musings, Bryan. I read Narnia to our boys starting at age 7; the myth of redemptive violence is alive and well there also. Ditto in the best kids' literature (HPotter, "Warrior" series, Eragon, Kenneth Oppel, Cornelia Funke, etc.). While TVOKids and CBCKids is all the TV they can watch, even mild video / computer games are filled with the good vs. evil motif. I marvel how they fully engage in the myth, yet fully know that Jesus' way is one of loving the enemy, and of refusing to harm anyone. I pray they outgrow the former rather than the latter!


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